What is Linux Used For?

Like the train engine of folktale fame, Linux has emerged as "the little operating system that could," with developers vowing "I think I can" with each new use and adaptation. In fact, in the 30 years since its inception, Linux has grown beyond all expectations. Today, the Linux OS – created as a free alternative to the dominant PC OSes, with open source code that any programmer can examine and modify – is ubiquitous throughout the technology world.

Millions of PCs, laptops and Chromebooks run on Linux or a Linux variant (called a "distribution"). And while Microsoft Windows and MacOS still lead in market share by huge margins, user acceptance of Linux is increasing steadily. A growing library of Linux-based software programs and an expanded focus on delivering user-friendly "desktop" interfaces have contributed to the trend.

The evolution and adoption of Linux has been even greater in information technology, science, and industry. Linux or Linux-based code is used to run web servers and data networks, supercomputers and smartphones, wireless routers and home security cameras, and much more. It's an amazing success story, likely outpacing even the wildest dreams of Linux's inventor, Linus Torvalds.

Linux: More than just for a PC operating system

Why is Linux so popular? It's known for being very stable and secure, with little downtime due to crashes or viruses and malware. It's free (though some distributors charge fees for special versions or add-on services), so it's cheaper to install and maintain than other OSes. Linux or Linux variants can run a wide range of hardware, from tiny, remote monitoring devices to older PCs with limited RAM or CPU power. There are also specialized versions of Linux built for narrow but important purposes.

Make no mistake. Linux remains the OS disruptor. It’s the computer operating system that’s NOT Windows or MacOS. Still, the most unexpected aspect of Linux’s evolution is all the other ways today’s Linux distributions are used. Let's take a deeper look at where the Linux OS is found.

Web servers and mainframes

Linux has become, by far, the most popular OS used to run the computers that serve (deliver) the web pages, smartphone apps and cloud content we use every day. In fact, the "L" in LAMP – an acronym for a wildly popular collection of server software – stands for Linux (along with, in most cases, Apache, MySQL and Python).

Linux is also found increasingly in mainframe computers. These once-dominant systems have lost market share as more computing chores are performed using live, web-based applications. But Linux's low cost and adaptable, open source nature has helped keep mainframes affordable and relevant for some tasks.

Data networking and security

The stability and reliability of the Linux OS makes it the default choice for running today's computer networks and data centers. Even many home network routers, smart speakers and other personal devices operate on customized, minimalist versions of a Linux OS.

Linux also plays a role in maintaining the security of our most valued and sensitive information. For example, one Linux distribution, called Kali, is popular with security specialists who use its tools to simulate cyber-attacks and conduct data auditing and forensics. See How to Install Kali Linux for more.

Embedded systems and the Internet of Things

Depending on the distribution, Linux involves little administrative or operational overhead. it just runs the PC or server or small remote device to which it is assigned. This makes stripped-down versions of Linux perfect for running home network routers, video game consoles and millions of small devices in the Internet of Things. Examples include industrial monitors, security cameras, connected appliances, etc.

Android devices and Chromebooks

The Google Chrome OS that runs today's popular Chromebook computers is based on Linux. Other companies that produce similar netbook-style PCs have created their own Linux-based OSes to run them. Also based on Linux: the Android operating system. If you've made a call, connected to a webpage, downloaded an app or played a game on an Android device, pieces of the Linux OS were part of what you did.

The list of uses for Linux goes on and on. Researchers use Linux to tie together thousands of PCs into advanced computer clusters that can share the biggest mathematical calculations and other tasks. Linux variants run some of today's most popular wearables such as smart watches and personal EKG monitors. Some e-readers and DVRs run on Linux variants. Even the hugely popular gaming operating system, SteamOS, is based on Linux.

Lenovo Linux laptops, computers and workstations

Lenovo now offers a wide selection of ultra-reliable Think-brand laptops, desktops and workstations with the Linux OS preinstalled. Have the reliable portability of the latest ThinkPad laptop or mobile workstation, or the brawny business power of a ThinkCentre desktop – now with select models of each featuring the Linux OS right out of the box.

Browse all of our latest Linux laptops and computers today.

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